A cluster is a two-or-greater-node failover solution, using a shared-nothing model (i.e., each server owns and manages its own devices). A cluster isn’t a fault-tolerant solution but rather a high-availability solution; that is, it minimizes downtime instead of eliminating it.

The two nodes in a cluster work in either an active/active (i.e., both servers perform meaningful work all the time) or an active/passive (i.e., one server performs no meaningful work or performs work but doesn’t run the same application at the same time as the other server) mode. Some applications can use the active/active mode (e.g., Microsoft SQL Server and File Services), but others must use an active/passive configuration (e.g., Exchange Server).

A key part of cluster is the shared-storage subsystem. The external storage devices must be based on SCSI. The connections to the devices can be based on either SCSI or SCSI over fibre channel (the cluster uses SCSI commands to reserve and release devices and to reset SCSI buses)

If a service or machine in a back-end cluster fails, another in the cluster takes control and handles all the requests (unlike a load-balanced configuration, where several machines share the requests). In essence, a back-end cluster is more reliable than a front-end cluster; it's just not as scalable. Windows 2000 Advanced Server allowed an MSCS cluster with two nodes; in Win2k3, you can have up to four nodes per cluster.

Pseudo Active/active clustering

Active/Active Clustered SQL is not quite what it means - the active/active means that both nodes are serving SQL but usually serve different DBs. For example DBs 1-3 in most cases go to node 1 and DBs 4-6 in most cases go to node 2. You split the backend disk between the nodes and load share. Should a fail-over occur then all 1-6 databases in this example can be accessed from just the one node.

See Also